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The Gator

The student news site of Brimmer and May School | Chestnut Hill, MA

The Gator

The student news site of Brimmer and May School | Chestnut Hill, MA

The Gator

Kentucky Basketball Takes a Hit, But is it All Calipari’s Fault?

Gabe Cohen
Gabe Cohen ’26 and Coach John Calipari share a moment at the Basketball Hall Of Fame in Springfield Massachusetts last August.

A disappointing NCAA tourney defeat to 14-seed Oakland marked the end of the Kentucky Wildcats Basketball season.

Kentucky went 23-10 this season and was rewarded with a #3 seed for this year’s March Madness tournament, but failed to find much success after that.

The legendary coach of the Wildcats, John Calipari, has received heavy criticism from the sports world after failing to find any recent tournament success. Kentucky’s last national championship was in 2014, and have since only made the final four once, in 2015.

More notably though, they have been upset two times over the previous three years by a low seed in the first round. Considering the amount of NBA talent and star power Calipari’s teams have contained, these results look incredibly lackluster.

Calipari is a pioneer in the college basketball scene, as he is the definition of a player’s coach. Calipari has sent 47 Kentucky players to the NBA, 35 being first-round selections. There is no doubt that Calipari has transformed many of his players’ lives and basketball careers, and has set them up for financial success in life.

Bleacher Report

In 2005, the NBA and NCAA reached an agreement to allow student-athletes to declare for the NBA Draft after their freshman year. Since this rule was established, Calipari has dominated the recruiting scene, becoming a hotspot for the most talented high school seniors in the country— and molding them into elite NBA Draft prospects in just one year.

Although Calipari has had an abundance of high-level NBA talent in his program each year, his teams have recently fallen short in the tournament. While many blame this on Calipari’s inability to keep his players’ egos and roles in check, I argue there is a different reason that isn’t fully in Calipari’s control.

The combination of Kentucky’s one-and-done culture, along with Calipari’s elite player development, creates an environment that isn’t championship-winning. It sounds counterintuitive, but Calipari can maximize his prospects’ talent each year and often has the deepest, most talented teams in the country.

Moreover, the headspace of his players late in the season makes for teams that aren’t destined to cut down the nets in March.

When Kentucky’s highly touted freshmen step foot on campus over the summer, their mindset is to get to the NBA as quickly as possible. This aspiration gets encouraged throughout the season, as when they establish roles and succeed in them, they start to create NBA draft buzz around their names.

This hype can be a lot for 18 and 19-year-old freshmen, who, seeing their dreams unfold before them, can become complacent—leading them to care more about their own success than the team’s.

Today, social media increasingly impacts the sports world. When these players are starting to get recognized as potential draft prospects, they can quickly buy into the  “what’s next narrative” surrounding them. This environment has allowed these young men to be in the spotlight from a very young age, inflating their egos.

The combination of Kentucky’s one-and-done culture, along with Calipari’s elite player development, creates an environment that isn’t championship-winning.

All of this leads to a recipe for disaster in March, as by this time NBA draft buzz is reaching an all-time high at tournament time. March Madness is a great time for young prospects to raise their draft stock on the biggest stage. After the Kentucky players have established success at the college level, they are thinking about the next step in their playing careers and how they can improve their stock in March.

One thing Calipari’s teams lack but could see improvement is experience. Having upperclassmen who have seen tournament basketball before and provide leadership for the young players is an essential tool for having a successful team in March. The majority of Calipari’s players are underclassmen, but Kentucky has started to add upperclassmen talents, such as having Antonio Reeves and Tre Mitchell.

If Calipari can continue to utilize the transfer portal to add quality upperclassmen talent, then his future teams could get back to tournament prominence.

Is Calipari partly at fault for creating such a successful one-and-done culture? Yes, but he has the opportunity to balance one-and-done talent and valuable player experience in his new job at Arkansas, as he recently accepted a lucrative five-year deal with the Razorbacks. It will be interesting to see how Calipari revives his coaching career in a new environment.

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About the Contributor
Gabe Cohen
Gabe Cohen, Co-Sports Editor
Gabe is a journalist for The Gator. He enjoys playing basketball and keeping up with different sports. He also loves to listen to music and make videos for his YouTube.

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  • Dean CohenApr 10, 2024 at 12:38 pm

    Outstanding article‼️ Enjoyed reading‼️